Yesterday I learned that the German mail service has a special rate for mailing books because if you use normal package rates, shipping books becomes prohibitively difficult for more purposes. So there’s a special tariff for the “Büchersendung” and it is incredibly cheap: €1,00 for a half kilo book or €1,65 to ship a kilogram of paper anywhere you would like within Germany.
To be eligible for that rate you need to adhere to a very strict list of guidelines one of which is that you are not allowed to add any personal writing (i.e. a letter) to the package. You are allowed to add things such as advertisements and/or invoices. See here the updated (per 1-1-2013) list that aren’t allowed:
Adressierte schriftliche Mitteilungen (Briefe) sind weiterhin nicht zugelassen, z.B.:
individuelle Brieftexte aller Art, ob handschriftlich oder gedruckt,
Texte mit Anrede (z.B. “Sehr geehrter Kunde”),
Texte mit Höflichkeitsformel (z.B. “Mit freundlichen Grüßen”),
persönliche Mitteilungen (z.B. “Rest folgt”).
What struck me is how revealing this artifact is about German society.
The fact that there would be a special rate for books tells about the value attributed to books and the knowledge that is contained in them. Special facilities such as the Büchersendung needed to be created so even the more remote parts of the country could be connected to the book —which is to say knowledge— economy.
The fact that there are employees of the mail service who sample the shipments and check whether the criteria have been met —books have to be mailed in resealable envelopes— tells how resistent such institutions here are even to this day and how seriously they take their job. Comparing this to the Netherlands where such a system does not exist: such a rule would first not be enforced anymore and then when abuse became rampant it would be abolished.
And with that the fact that this institutional vestige still exists is a reminder of how many historic rights that serve no real purpose anymore still are upheld in Germany because there can always be found a vocal group of people somewhere who want to maintain it and are willing to spend the effort to campaign for it. I don’t know if that is the case with the Büchersendung right now but I’m quite sure it will be with us for quite some time still.